Upon receiving a prestigious award for his community work this past January, Warrick Dunn summed up his charitable motivations thusly: "Community service has always been the cornerstone of who I am. I can't stress enough the value that giving back adds to your own life, and how it truly enriches others."
The same ideals are embraced by the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame in Boise, Idaho, which has made a mission of recognizing "athletes who are role models and humanitarians for the purpose of inspiring individuals of all ages to reach their full potential."
It was fitting, then, that the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame has made Dunn, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' veteran running back and noted crusader for single mothers, part of its distinguished class of 2008. On Tuesday night, Dunn was inducted into the Hall along with former NBA star Vlade Divac and Olympic skier Jimmie Heuga during a gala held at Boise State University.
Dunn told the assembled crowd that he was "truly honored" to accept his induction.
"I want you to be encouraged," said the 12th-year NFL veteran and three-time Pro Bowler. "Help those who want to help themselves. If you want to change the world, help someone."
Dunn joins over 40 sports humanitarians inducted into the Hall over the last 14 years, including tennis icon Arthur Ashe, MLB pioneer Jackie Robinson, former Dallas Cowboys Head Coach Tom Landry, soccer legend Pelé and NBA great David Robinson. The inductees represent 12 sports and are recognized in one or more of 12 philanthropic categories: Children & Youth, Civil Rights, Education, Environment, Gender Equity, Health & Disease, Homelessness, Hunger & Poverty, Inner City Revitalization, Overseas Aid, Public Service and Sports & Recreation.
Dunn's own work through the Warrick Dunn Foundation touches on several of those areas but is primarily dedicated to providing opportunities for economically-disadvantaged single parents and children who have demonstrated a commitment to achieve financial independence and stability. Most notably, he established the "Homes for the Holidays" program in 1997, his rookie year in Tampa, in order to help single mothers in Tampa and his hometown of Baton Rouge realize the dream of home ownership.
The impetus from that program was the dream of his own mother, Betty Smothers, a police offer who was killed in the line of duty while working a second job to support Dunn and his siblings. Smothers never realized her own dream of home ownership, but close to 100 single parents and 200 children have thanks to Homes for the Holidays, which has since been expanded to include Tallahassee, Florida and Atlanta. Dunn played his college ball at Florida State in Tallahassee and spent the 2002-07 seasons with the Atlanta Falcons.
"My mother gave me the foundation for caring about people; my grandmother too," said Dunn during Tuesday's induction. "Once my mother died, my grandmother gave up her life too, to take care of us. If you can save a life or improve a life I would encourage that. My life has already been blessed, I had the opportunity to play football but most importantly I have had the opportunity to change family lives. She gave me a foundation of caring about people. I'm happy that I found something that I was passionate about, that I understood, that I can relate to. Most importantly, I've had an opportunity to change people's lives."
Dunn has been recognized often for his outsized charitable work during his NFL career, which began when the Buccaneers drafted him in the first round in 1997. He was selected as one of Oprah Winfrey's "Angels" in 2001; he was named one of the 101 Most Influential Minorities in Sports by Sports Illustrated in 2003; and he has been included in The Sporting News' Top 75 Good Guys in Sports four times.
In 2004, Dunn was honored as the 2004 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year, thus receiving the highest honor bestowed upon an NFL player for his outstanding community service and on-field performance. Tuesday's induction into the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame is another acclaimed and well-deserved honor, and more proof to Dunn that he has served his mother's memory well.
"I am humble and thankful that I have experienced so much in my life," he said. "The opportunity to live out her legacy is rewarding."
The World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame is located on the Boise State campus and was the inspiration behind Boise's Humanitarian Bowl. In addition to its annual classes of sports humanitarians, the Hall also recognizes other community-focused leaders from the world of sports. Among its additional awards are the Nell and John Wooden Coaching Achievement Award, which annually honors a coach along with his or her spouse who have made exceptional contributions to their players and their futures, and the Tradition of Excellence Award, which recognizes Heisman Trophy winners who have distinguished themselves in their chosen careers and brought honor and distinction to the Heisman program.